Following Adele’s Album of the Year victory at this year’s Grammys, many people (including Adele herself) criticized the Recording Academy for honoring her 25 over Beyoncé’s Lemonade. It was the latest in a string of Grammy Album of the Year victories by white artists over albums by black artists that many people felt were more deserving, including last year’s defeat of Kendrick Lamar by Taylor Swift and Beyoncé’s losing to Beck in 2015. In a new interview with Pitchfork, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow addressed the issue. When asked “Do you think the Grammys has a race problem?” Portnow responded, “No, I don’t think there’s a race problem at all.”
We don’t, as musicians, in my humble opinion, listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity. When you go to vote on a piece of music—at least the way that I approach it—is you almost put a blindfold on and you listen. It’s a matter of what you react to and what in your mind as a professional really rises to the highest level of excellence in any given year. And that is going to be very subjective. That’s what we ask our members to do, even in the ballots. We ask that they not pay attention to sales and marketing and popularity and charts. You have to listen to the music. So of the 14,000 voters, they listen, they make up their minds, and then they vote.
Now here’s the other interesting part of the process, and we stand 100 percent behind the process: It’s a democratic vote by majority. So somebody could either receive or not receive a Grammy based on one vote. It could be that tight.
When asked by Pitchfork about the Oscars taking steps to increase diversity among their voters, and if the Recording Academy planned anything similar, Portnow responded:
Well, they may have had a problem. We don’t have that kind of an issue in that same fashion. But we are always working on increase diversity in membership, whether it’s ethnicity, gender, genre, or age. In order to maintain our relevance, we have to be refreshing all the time and we have to be doing that across the board.
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